When Ubisoft initially released "Watch Dogs" six months ago, they shipped the game on every big console, plus PC. The experience was decent, though by no means as spectacular as the marketing campaign (and the E3 trailer) had led consumers to expect.
But Ubisoft didn’t release "Watch Dogs" on the Wii U at the same time. That was not a strange decision in itself, given the beleaguered market position of Nintendo’s console and the poor sales of Ubisoft’s other big-money mature series on the console, "Assassin’s Creed." However, Ubisoft claimed the six-month delay was necessary to fully utilize the Wii U’s gamepad controller.
Six months later, we have the Wii U version. So was it worth the wait?
In a word: no. The Wii U version of "Watch Dogs" is a completely wasted opportunity.
Let’s get this out of the way early: The graphics aren't bad. Not quite as nice as they were on PS4, and much better than the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions in cutscenes. Still, frame rate is inconsistent while driving around the in-game version of Chicago, and environmental textures fall flat in the open world. After seeing "Watch Dogs" on PS4 and Xbox One, the Wii U version feels drab; lighting effects and shading are much more pronounced in other next-gen versions, though all failed to deliver what Ubisoft originally promised. Never mind that dialogue in cutscenes is out of sync with lip movements.
Gameplay is the same, and therein lies the biggest problem. The one thing that the Wii U has over other consoles -- its second screen/gamepad -- isn’t taken advantage of. It could have changed the simplistic nature of hacking. It could have been used for puzzles. Something new. Something to add to the experience.
The second screen is a map. Just a map.
It could have been used to solve puzzles in a new way, or to make hacking a little more involved than pressing a single button to hack everything. Instead, it just exists as a more awkward apparatus to play "Watch Dogs" with.
Oh, it supports off-screen play too, but let’s be honest -- you don’t want to play an open-world game on a 5-inch screen.
Really, that sums up "Watch Dogs" on the Wii U: It had potential, but, intentionally buried or not, it was all squandered.
The bigger story here is that, with this after-the-fact port, Ubisoft has mostly given up on supporting the Wii U as many third-party publishers have before it. In August, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot told Game Informer, “['Watch Dogs'] will be the only mature game we publish on [Wii U].” Considering that Ubisoft’s best-selling franchise, "Assassin’s Creed," is rated M in every iteration, there’s little hope that the Wii U will get much future support from Ubisoft aside from the "Just Dance" series (which still sells well on Nintendo’s console).
Whether or not the Wii U needs mature-rated third-party games is debatable (their consoles have traditionally done well without such games), but "Watch Dogs" is one of the last games, if not the last game, on the Wii U that will sport an M rating.
But "Watch Dogs" Wii U has no reason to exist, released half a year after all the other versions.
"Watch Dogs" was originally released on the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC in May 2014. The Wii U version launched on Nov. 18. Ubisoft provided a copy of "Watch Dogs" Wii U for review.